bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Monday, January 31, 2005

Spring is heading north

Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) -- one of the first signs of spring in southern England. When it's warm enough, bees will work them -- not today though. Drifts of snowdrops remind me of a group of shy, pretty girls ...

 Posted by Hello

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Bees attracted by smoking's decline

With the decline in North Carolina's (USA) managed bee population from 180,000 to 100,000 hives in the past twenty years (not to mention the feral colonies lost to varroa), and as farmers move from tobacco to crops that need bee pollination, a plan is afoot.

North Carolina State University is providing 250 qualified applicants with two hives of Russian honey bees and bee hives. Participants have to invest $50 to $150 for beekeeper protective clothing, smokers and additional hive equipment.
The one-year program is being funded with a $164,000 grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation, which administers money received by North Carolina from its settlement with cigarette manufacturers. Applicants from traditional tobacco-growing areas will get priority for funding.
Already there have been about 600 applications and beekeeping course organizers report that their enrollment has increased dramatically since the programme was announced.


Earth Science Picture of the Day

Here's a good page to bookmark. Each day there is a different image or photograph, with an explanatory caption, featuring various topics in the Earth Sciences.

Saturday, January 29, 2005


There's a very thorough new site on honeybees from the University of Texas.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Minnesotans need bee licence

I never realised that Minnesota beekeepers had to pay an annual beekeeper fee of $10. There are 458 registered beekeepers and 120739 bee colonies. The licence applies to all beekeepers including hobbyists and anyone who owns, leases, or possesses colonies of bees.
The information is used by state apiary inspectors to locate colonies for pest and disease inspections and to help aerial applicators locate and avoid colonies when spraying pesticides.

As part of the registry process, apiary inspectors provide free inspections of registered bee colonies for pests and diseases and help with treatment recommendations.
Does this apply in other US states? The fee is per beekeeper rather than per colony, so the income generated seems very small. And in Minnesota people need licences for all manner of agricultural activities.

Bee product scepticism

There's a good sceptical article about the health benefits of bee products in the Contra Costa Times. As the author, Ed Blonz, says: a lot of it “comes down to a big “I don't know”.”

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Cold comfort

What do your bees do in winter? These Nantucket bees just nod off.

 Posted by Hello

Monday, January 24, 2005

Green roofs

Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago, USA is encouraging a “green roof” movement and installed honeybees on the roof of Chicago City Hall. He heard about the idea in Hamburg, Germany.

Oklahoma threatens killer bees with quarantine

After the arrival of Africanized honeybees in Oklahoma, USA this year, the politicians are trying to outlaw them: a Republican representative has put forward a bill that aims to “allow the state agency to quarantine locations where the bees are discovered”. I wonder how that works.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Honey beer

Two honey beers for your consideration:

City Honey Bock containing 2 lbs of honey in every 31 gallon barrel from a micro brewery in Wisconsin.

Honey Amber Rose from South Florida -- low on alcohol, low on carbs. Just one question, if you doesn't get you drunk and it doesn't make you fat, what is the point!! Oh, it claims to be the first beer for women.

And there's a whole factsheet on honey in beers from the US National Honey Board [pdf file]. The Board suggests clover honey for light beers and buckwheat for stouts and porters and other honeys for mid-range beers.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Crystallised honey bothers space scientists

Yesterday, Expedition 10 crewmembers marked their 100th day in space. Honey is on their experiments list. They are studying the viscosity of molten materials because the absence of gravity in space means that drop distortions do not occur. It seems that in the last experiment the honey crystallized.

The press release is quite technical but regrettably not very clear on the matter ... In any event they appear to be running the experiment again as part of the Miscible Fluids in Micro Gravity experiment. On Wednesday they plan to walk in space.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Famous oak croaks

A famous bee tree has fallen in California. The tree was the focus of LSD parties, early Grateful Dead gigs and psychedelic literary gatherings in the 1960s.
The valley oak was immortalized in Tom Wolfe's 1968 book The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, which described Perry Avenue resident and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest author Ken Kesey holding court on a tree-top mattress with bowls of LSD-laced chili. Grateful Dead fans hung flowers from the tree when Jerry Garcia died in 1995 ...
The oak tree simply fell over this week. A local beekeeper says the tree has had a bee nest for twenty years and is wondering how to rescue it.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Springwatch in Britain

UK readers can take part in Springwatch by recording the first appearance of indicator flora and fauna: bumble bees, frogspawn, peacock butterfly, ladybird, hawthorn and swifts. The suspicion is that spring is arriving earlier and this phenology survey will give more data. I think the first swarm should be included too!

Stings for rent

Bee shortages have led North Carolina Department of Agriculture has set up a website for beekeepers and growers in search of each other. Bee Linked enables beekeepers to advertise their hive lets -- prices are from about $35 per colony and upwards. As yet no growers have listed themselves in search of bees.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Cypriot recriminations

Allegations are flying in Cyprus following the government's reported statement that beekeepers didn't understand the EU rules on honey.
In a written statement yesterday, the beekeepers censured the government for encouraging the use of antibiotics since 1995.

“They wrongly proposed the use of antibiotics and did not inform us of the possible negative consequences and for ten years they left Cypriot citizens exposed to the nutrition danger they raise today,” the written statement said.

The beekeepers further charged that in 2002 the health ministry had allowed the import of 20 tonnes of Chinese honey without any checks, when such imports were banned by a January 30, 2002, directive, which ordered their immediate destruction.

Agriculture Minister Timis Efthymiou said it was unfair to accuse the ministry for not informing beekeepers.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Waspish weapons

Amongst weapons investigated by the US military in a 1994 proposal appears to have been a “sting bomb” -- a chemical weapon to attract swarms of enraged wasps or angry rats towards enemy troops. They also considered a “gay bomb”:
an aphrodisiac chemical that would provoke widespread homosexual behaviour among troops, causing what the military called a “distasteful but completely non-lethal” blow to morale.

Tasmanian devils

Bumblebees have now spread throughout Tasmania in just 13 years according to Andrew Hingston of the University of Tasmania. They are regarded as an unwelcome invasive species and compete with native fauna for nectar and pollen. They have spread beyond urban areas into Tasmania's wilderness areas.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Tasmanian angels

There's a claim that bee pollination is worth $Australian 200 million (US$150 million, UK£80 million) to the Tasmania economy and that there is a shortage of bees for fruit tree pollination there this year.

For a human population of just less than half a million people, that works out Australian $400 (US$300, UK£160) a head. Can any other region beat that?

The UK claims only UK£138.8 million for 59 million people -- about UK £2.36 per head. Has anyone ever seen the figures for California?

No encouragement for tetchy girls

I visited one of my two apiaries late today bearing a gift of sugar for a colony that seemed a bit light in stores last autumn. They didn't get it though.

I'd noticed in the autumn they were a bit tetchy. It was about 8C today and I tapped the hive to listen for the comforting short hiss indicating that they were queen-right. Instead I almost got a faceful of bees. Most unusual. I think they may be a permanently grumpy (sorry, extra-defensive) colony so I may have to requeen as early as I can this spring. They didn't receive their sugar gift because I didn't want to encourage them and I certainly don't want them to produce early drones to impart their defensiveness to early queens in the area this spring.

The other colony in the same apiary was much more serene. I noticed that on the top of the grumpy hive there was an owl pellet, so maybe the edgy colony is having their patience tested each night by a hooting owl.

But there was some good news -- on the way to the apiary I noticed the emerging leaves of field beans in two large fields. Field bean nectar makes lovely honey. It will flower in June -- just as oil seed rape (canola) finishes flowering. And I saw snowdrops in flower for the first time -- usually regarded as the first nectar plant of the spring in southern England.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Sticky mess in Cyprus

The alert about the imported honey containing antibiotics in Cyprus is certainly stirring things up there and, if this report is anything to go by, there is public confusion about whose honey is contaminated with antibiotics. It seems that the Cypriot Health Ministry and the Beekeepers' Association need to get their heads together.

An Agriculture official said “the problem boiled down to the fact that beekeepers were not adequately informed to be able to keep their obligations to the EU”.

Friday, January 14, 2005

You think you've got weird bureaucracy?

What can only be sold in quantities of 2 ounces or less, 57g, 113g, 227g, 340g, 454g, 680g or a multiple of 454g? Honey. And where? The UK.

But the real question is WHY?

Well, it seems that it's supposed to be easier for consumers. I'll let you think about that one for a moment.

Apparently, consumers can only easily compare prices if they are the same weight, so the UK has decreed that honeys and jams shall be sold in these weird weights -- which have historical significance because they equate to the older, now abandoned, imperial units ie pounds and ounces.

But of course there are exceptions -- importers can sell in quantities of 250g, 500g etc because otherwise it would be seen as a restraint of trade.

Ah, glad that one has been cleared up -- thanks to a local trading standards officer.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Leisure Town sounds like Hell

A poor amateur beekeeper has caused a furore in Leisure Town which is administered by Vacaville City Council (I kid you not! These names seem straight out of the Truman Show).

He hadn't realised his bees were causing concern, but when he found out he willing removed them. This was not enough for the zealots of Vacaville City Council who proceeded to pass an ordinance limiting where bees can be kept in dear old Leisure Town.

One part of the ordinance causes me further wonderment:
Keeping wild swarms of bees -- colonies of the insects not established on a hive -- also will be prohibited under the ordinance.

Ulee's Gold

Tonight I saw a film I've wanted to see for years -- Ulee's Gold (UK video) (USA DVD) -- and I wasn't disappointed. Starring Peter Fonda as Ulee Jackson, a beekeeper, it tells the story of a dysfunctional family coming back from the edge.

Bees and beekeeping act as a counterpoint and a metaphor for the film's storyline. The treatment of beekeeping is first-rate and any beekeeper will relate to the beekeeping scenes. Even the music has bee undertones.

Unlike the usual hyped-up fare from Hollywood, Ulee's Gold is subtle and understated. Directed by Victor Nunez, a regional director, it is set in Florida and is a great advert for tupelo honey (which I have yet to taste!).

If you are interested in bees, odds are you will like and relate to this film. Only the rather too sweet ending disappoints. The best bit? No-one gets stung! Now that must be a first for a bee movie.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

What a forklifter!

A Californian beekeeper has reported that 128 of his hives were stolen.
Bruce Beekman, co-owner of Beekman Apiaries, said the stolen bees were worth about $26,000. They were owned by a beekeeper from Wyoming, who had sent them here to help with almond pollination in February.
Tyre tracks indicated that the thief used a forklift and flatbed truck. He also knew what he was doing as he took only unbranded hives.

Anyone know the biggest hive heist ever?

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Gene studies for healthier bees

The honeybee genome may help in the search for healthier bees and better bred bees.

An entomologist and a molecular biologist in the USA are interested in characterizing genes involved in potential resistance to the bacterium Paenibacillus larvae, which causes American Foulbrood. They say that one tantalizing lead is abaecin, a small protein that may be part of a resistance response in some bees to foulbrood infection

Honey winning the breakfast wars in the UK

Honey has now overtaken marmalade in value of sales (not yet volume) in the UK according to The Grocer (subscription) and in an interview on The Today programme. I haven't been able to access the original article, but wonder if honey sales are going up, or if marmalade sales are declining.

An interesting titbit is that the vast majority of marmalade consumers in the UK are over the age of 45.

UPDATE 12 Jan 2005: Honey sales in the UK rose 12% in 2004. And according to Rowse, one of the UK's largest honey packers:
"Since the ban [on Chinese honey -- now lifted], blends have been created without using Chinese honey, which are better quality, and consumers have now got a taste for them."

Monday, January 10, 2005

Monsanto ethics

Monsanto, the agro-chemicals giant, has been caught bribing an Indonesian official to try to avoid environmental impact studies on its Genetically Modified (GM) cotton. The incident happened two years ago, the bribe was $50,000, Monsanto has been fined $1.5 million and accepted full responsibility. It wasn't an isolated incident and the company has admitted paying bribes to other high-ranking officials between 1997 and 2002.

Monsanto probably does more to damn GM crops than any lobbying organisation I can think of.

Dirty deeds in Cyprus

An update to the earlier story about the impounding of 20,300 kgs of “Indian” honey in Cyprus because it had been found to contain antibiotics:

Two batches of honey were discovered on supermarket shelves and the Public Health Autorities did a surprise inspection of the impounded honey and found over 10% of it missing. The director of the honey company, Efstathios Stylianou, had earlier maintained that he had imported the honey from India to distribute it to producers as bee feed.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Annual almond conundrum

The shortage of bees for almond pollination in California seems to be becoming an annual story. Estimates indivcate that about one million colonies are needed and half of the bees needed for pollination have to be sourced out of state. The state's $1.189 billion almond crop is entirely dependent on honeybee pollination.
“A lot of guys are out hustling and looking for hives right now that should have been doing it sooner. I heard back in October that a bee shortage would happen next season,” Marsh said. “... The bee guys have some leverage to bring their prices up on the bees. The price of hives has basically doubled.”

... The average price to rent a hive for pollination for almost five weeks in 2003 was about $45 per hive, and during the 2004 pollination season, the average cost was about $48 per hive. To rent a hive for the 2005 season, the price is expected to reach $75 to $85 per hive.
The shortages seem mainly due to a failure to control varroa.
“We went through Apistan and now we are basically getting to the tail end of CheckMite+ where most people say, ‘I put the strips in the hive and nothing happened,’” Mussen said. “Now we have a serious problem because there is no third magic bullet. Mite numbers are just growing and growing.”


Sensing tsunamis

With speculation about the ability of animals to have sensed the incoming tsunami (remarkably few corpses of large mammals appear to have been found), there's a interesting story about the Jawara tribe surviving the tsunami on India's isolated Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Government officials and anthropologists have speculated ancient knowledge of the movement of wind, sea and birds may have saved the indigenous tribes from the tsunami that killed 901 people and left 5,914 missing on the islands. But Ashu and his companions refused to talk about how they avoided the devastating waves.
The tribe is very wary of strangers and one had a message to tourists which has an even greater resonance as aid reaches the area:
He said tourists sometimes throw packages of cookies from buses, adding: “We don't like when tourists throw things at us. They should give it to our hands.”
And the tribe's usial diet?
When asked what they typically eat, Ashu said pork and fish killed with arrows. “And we like honey.”
See update.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Queens to counter Maoism

Beekeepers tend to underestimate the significance of beekeeping, but the government of the state of Jharkhand in Northern India certainly doesn't:
Realising the importance of keeping its rural populace economically contented, the Jharkhand government has decided to introduce beekeeping in Maoist-prone areas to wean people away from the guerrillas' influence.
Forty-eight self-help groups will be given 20 beehives, and the state government has allocated $3,280 for the scheme.
“The idea is to engage people in some positive work so that they do not fall into the clutches of Maoist guerrillas. If our experiment is successful then we will introduce beekeeping in other Maoist-infested districts,” a forest official told IANS.

Apparently, the idea of providing employment to counter Maoist influence came from the local police force. The report says that Maoist Guerrillas are active in 18 of the 22 districts of the state and that nearly 510 people including 210 policemen have been killed since creation of the state in November 2000.

With a population of nearly 22 million, Jharkhand per capita income is just $93 (profile).

Monday, January 03, 2005

Beehive brawl

Vandals tried to wreck two of my beehives in an out-apiary over the Christmas period. Not content with pushing the hives over, they threw rocks breaking a lot of the frames in one hive. I do hope the bees found the culprits, but they are such sweeties I suspect they didn't.

A fellow-blogger helped me reassemble the hives. One colony seems rather too well-populated and I suspect was infiltrated by a lot of disoriented bees from the other colony. There's not a lot more I can do until the end of March other than to make sure they have plenty of food. Now, to find those vandals ...

What a devil!

Amongst the attractions at the 121st Maryland State Fair this year:
A must-see is the beekeeper, Jerry Fischer, who stands in a screened room for 25 to 30 minutes at a time wearing just a T-shirt and shorts, several times a day.
Life must be exciting in Baltimore.